Brain Pickings

Frida Kahlo’s DIY Paint Recipe

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How to emulate artistic genius via a home-cooked emulsion.

Mexican painter and reconstructionist Frida Kahlo, true to her penchant for native crafts and her methodically inquisitive mind, was intensely interested in artists’ guidelines — a meta-genre of art that holds equal fascination today. From The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (public library), which also gave us her passionate hand-written love letters to Diego Rivera and her poignant meditation on how we are all connected in our pain, comes Kahlo’s recipe for a paint medium using damar gum — a resin harvested from trees native to the Pacific — to which pigment would be added to produce the final paint product:

FOR THE OLD CONCEALER FISITA*. Distemper together 4 equal parts of egg yolks raw linseed oil

egg yolk = raw linseed oil = compound of damar gum blended in turpentine = water

damar gum dissolved in turpentine and distilled water. with disinfectant take = concentrated aldehyde alcohol. ½ gram. to a liter of water.

crushed damar inside of lemon [suspended in] turpentine for 8 to 10 days.

remove all the white from the yolk.

  1. Make an emulsion of the ingredients
  2. Grind the colors into the emulsion
  3. If a glossy texture is desired, increase the amount of damar, up to two parts.
  4. If an overall matte finish is desired increase the water up to three parts

* Diego Rivera’s nickname for Kahlo

Complement this with Hans Ulrich Obrist’s compendium of 20 years of famous artists’ irreverent instructionals and the ever-delightful Artists’ & Writers’ Cookbook.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait remains beautiful and fascinating in its entirety — a rare glimpse of one of modern history’s most outwardly celebrated inner worlds.

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